In a study published in PLoS ONE, researchers focused on the gene 5HTR2C, in order to examine how it affected cardiovascular health. Based on previous research, the study authors knew that a variation in the DNA of this gene was linked with extreme reactions to stress. In fact, men who carry this genetic variant have twice as much of the stress hormone cortisol in their blood, compared to men without the variant.
Knowing that high levels of cortisol were linked to an increased risk for heart attacks, the researchers decided to examine the effects of this genetic variant more closely.
For their study, researchers from the Duke University Medical Center in Durham, N.C., followed 6,100 white male and female heart patients for six years. Of the patients studied, 13 percent carried the genetic variation for extreme stress response.
Overall, researchers found that carriers of this gene variant had a 38 percent higher risk for heart attack or death. The researchers suspect this may be because of a blood compound called MMP9, which is known to increase as cortisol levels in the body rise. According to Medical News Today, MMP9 may soften plaque in the arteries, making them more likely to burst or clot - leading to heart attacks or death.
Experts hope these findings might someday make it easier to prevent heart attack deaths.
"This research may one day help to identify patients who should be candidates for more intensive disease prevention and treatment strategies,” said Dr. Peter Kaufmann, a deputy branch chief of the Clinical Applications and Prevention Branch at the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.
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